Published: January 16, 2012
The Lone Star State is a hotbed for youth soccer, so it should come as no surprise that the Texas Division is consistently one of the most competitive in all of the USSF Development Academy.
Boosted by the lone four-star Academy, per U.S. Soccer’s grades, FC Dallas, and renowned youth clubs Solar Chelsea SC and Dallas Texans, the Academies in Texas continue to raise the bar on player development.
The focus for this year has been the shift in the calendar, as Texas moves to a ten-month schedule and eliminates the high school season.
“It is a big step forward,” Houston Dynamo Academy Director James Clarkson told TopDrawerSoccer.com on Friday. “It is a huge improvement especially in terms of scheduling the program with four training nights a week and games on the weekend.”
Clarkson’s U16 Dynamo team is currently middle of the pack in the Texas Division at the midway point of the season, but the standing is not nearly as important as his players’ development.
“Our goal is to get as many as possible to the first team,” said Clarkson. “The beauty of this group is that the majority have two more years with us at this level.”
Houston Dynamo U16 is one of the youngest teams in the Development Academy with many players playing a year or more up. The coach said injuries have played a factor, but the U15 team in the club is the most talented he has seen.
Dynamo is also home of the youngest player in the Development Academy in 13-year-old Layee Kromah, who has yet to appear in a game; but the coach plans on using him in an upcoming fixture.
“He is very raw,” said Clarkson about the left-footed midfielder. “He has never had coaching, but athletically, physically – he is off the charts. He is one for the future.”
At the top of the division is the Dallas Texans, which is undefeated through the first 14 games of the season.
Last year’s Texans U18 team finished the season undefeated, a first for the Development Academy, but coach David Hudgell is reluctant to draw comparisons.
“I think it is a little bit early to say to be fair,” said Hudgell. “There are similarities in the respect that there isn’t anyone quote unquote that is an outstanding player as far as the league is concerned.”
The coach did discuss the play of a couple of players, but focused on the group to explain the success of the team.
“Brandon Aubrey has done really well in terms of scoring for a non-forward,” said Hudgell. “Jared Rice
has been great at center back, but really it has been a team effort.”
Hudgell also pointed out the move to a new schedule makes it difficult for the Texans to keep up this streak with three games against every team in the division compared to only facing each team twice in previous years.
“Up to this point, it has been a mentality thing where they have found ways to stay in the game or get on top of the game to get results. It is going to be very, very difficult to continue through the year undefeated like the U18 did last year.”
One Academy hoping for the Texans to trip up is Houston Texans SC, which is directly behind its parent club in the standings.
“We got off to a great start,” said Houston Texans coach Scott James. “It has kept us at the right end of the table. Some of the younger players in the group have really stepped up and proved they belong at this level.”
Two of the younger players that James highlighted were Zachary Jackson and Albert Rocha.
Jackson is an attacking midfielder who was selected for the Academy Showcase Select game and the U17 training camp in December.
“He is a very dynamic player,” said James. “He is at his best when he is running at players. From to game to game, he has just grown in strength to strength. He has come a long way in 14 games.”
James said it was too early to start thinking about the playoffs, and added that any one of the upper seven teams in the Texas Division is capable of finishing in the top two spots, which are guaranteed a position in the playoffs.
FC Dallas, Solar Chelsea SC, Lonestar SC Academy, and Texas Rush complete the best seven that James referenced.
The MLS youth academy possesses arguably the most talented roster in the division, which is led by U17 World Cup veteran Kellyn Acosta, but recently lost coach Oscar Pareja to the Colorado Rapids.
Solar claims the top scorer in the division in midfielder Alan Winn
, who has 10 goals in 14 games.
As the teams round into the second half of the season, the yearly conundrum remains: can anyone catch the Dallas Texas?